Douglas Norris Nelsen (1923 – 2010)

Douglas Norris Nelsen, painter, sketcher, engraver, poet and writer. Brazilian, Anglo American descent, he was born in São Paulo on November 27, 1923. Direct descendant of Sir William Cecil Norris - Baron of Aberdeen.

Originally from a very wealthy family, due to the 1929 crisis, he passed from wealth to extreme poverty, having been raised by his maternal aunt, who had a remarkable and decisive influence on his personality and life choices.

He had a tough childhood, although surrounded by love, tenderness and sensitivity. His “Aunt Mother” was very cultured and stimulated him to like art in general. Classical music, painting and literature were part of his education. From an early age, he showed a natural aptitude for drawing. However, the concern with the formation of an indestructible character, unwavering values and high sensitivity were his greatest features throughout his life.

He studied in a public school and lived in the Paraíso neighbourhood, Vergueiro Street, where he lived with the working classes and immigrants of various nationalities or their children, which gave him a multi racial and social experience. His elder siblings, Roberto Carlos and Nadyr, also influenced him, mainly the first for his social and political vocation.

He was also a natural athlete, excelling in all disciplines he dedicated himself to: gymnastics, weightlifting, wrestling, ornamental jumps and swimming. He was active at Tietê Regattas Club. However, his artistic side always prevailed and the search for a way to express himself took him to pass through various art forms such as opera singing, cinema, television, visual arts and lastly literature.

In order to survive and feed his art, he had several occupations and activities. He worked in a cotton mill, as a valet parking, lifeguards, professional wrestler, television and film actor. His last occupation, gymnastic teacher, remained for many decades; he was the first Personal Trainer heard of in Brazil. As he had no concern about marketing his art, but a real fury to produce and create with extreme dedication, he focused on developing himself in the plastic arts.

The plastic arts emerged definitively in his life, when he was introduced to the painter Raphael Galvez, one of epresentatives of the Santa Helena Group.

In the fifties he acted in television and cinema. At TV Tupi he had his work recognized and in 1957 he was awarded a prize for the film "The Hunchback of Notre Dame", based on a novel by Victor Hugo, directed by Syllas Roberg; he played the role of Quasimodo, with Lolita Rodrigues as Esmeralda.

In the cinema he received the "Governor of the State" award, for his acting in “Paixão de Gaúcho”, directed by Walter G. Durst.

With the awards it was possible, in 1959, to get married to Zuleika, his loving wife, who stood at his side all his life.

In spite of the work as an actor, being friends with Raphael Galvez, he realized that painting was the manifestation that could convey all his sensitivity and humanity. Their friendship and intimacy were immediate and definitive. Raphael adopted him as his son in art, but respecting his own style and personality. It was very interesting to see how a painter of life, color and joy, like Raphael Galvez, identified himself with Douglas Norris, who was the artist of humanity, of the emotion and the domain of the "Bright-Dark" much present in his designs. Despite their own and mutually antagonistic styles, the essence and the artistic vision were the same and converged on how they considered art, only existing the meaning of creation without concern for commercial recognition.

Douglas Norris passed through all the techniques of plastic arts, but in some of them he reached mastery and full command. Self-taught, he learned and developed his technique through a lot of research, search and study. His engravings and dry points demonstrate scope of a level comparable to the best engravers in the world. Some phases of his paintings, highlighting the series Temperas on cardboard, are of a unique expression and rare quality. His series of mosaics depicting the life of Christ was made of unhewn stones cut by using a pair of pincers and pasted in tombstone by the artist himself for one year of hard work, having his nails been corroded due to the acid glue. These works are a milestone and demonstrate the artist’s great capacity of creation, dedication and overcoming. However, it was in the drawing that the artist greatly found himself and had a constant struggle of creation and re-invention of his own artwork. Perhaps because in this aspect, Douglas felt that technique never came to predominate over the emotion, the hand over the heart; in other techniques, when he felt that he could simply "sit down" and produce high quality work, he would stop producing considering that the work had become more mechanical than emotional.

Perhaps two of his greatest qualities as a plastic artist have been his conduct before art itself and his ability to re-invent himself, to rediscover himself, but that, regardless of the phase, can identify his artistic feature.

In the 1990 and 2010 decades he also devoted himself to literature, having written more than 19 books of poetry, short stories and thoughts, where he tells stories and passages experienced throughout more than 80 years of a difficult, painful but also full and true life.

In 2010 he fell and had to be taken to the hospital; this aggravated the health problems he already had. In his terminal phase, even having suffered some lucidity loss and being unable to move around, with no conditions to draw or write, he did not give up and on several occasions he expressed his artistic soul the only way he could, singing some opera excerpts to all who were present, after more than 40 years without doing it.

Neither life nor death defeated him, he simply decided to leave on September 9, 2010.